Minor league teams look forward to 'normal' season
Without a single Boomers game last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wintrust Field in Schaumburg found different ways to stay busy.
When Major League Baseball approved a shortened season in the summer, Boomers General Manager Michael Larson and his staff were able to host the White Sox "taxi squad" as it worked out and played scrimmages in preparation of being summoned by the Sox. The stadium also hosted socially-distanced viewing parties for Blackhawks playoff games.
The Chicago Dogs, meanwhile, played 30 games last summer at Impact Field in Rosemont with COVID-19 protocols that served as a blueprint for many sports teams.
Still, it wasn't the same.
This year, the Boomers, the Dogs and the Kane County Cougars aim to provide a sense of normalcy for minor league baseball fans anxious to return to the ballpark. A full season is on tap for each team.
Larson also said that between the Boomers, graduations, IHSA baseball and travel leagues, Wintrust Field is booked every weekend and most weekdays into the fall.
"Even though we didn't have a season last year, we're still seeing a high level of excitement from the community and the region," Larson said.
With the state entering the Bridge Phase of the Restore Illinois plan, Wintrust Field, Impact Field and Northwestern Medicine Field in Geneva will be able to host fans at 60% capacity at the start of the baseball season.
While the Boomers begin Frontier League play at home on May 27, the Dogs open at Kane County on Tuesday to start what's sure to develop into a local rivalry in the American Association.
"Geographically, it's going to be a great rivalry," said Dogs co-owner Shawn Hunter. "They have a great brand and have been around for decades. We're new on the block but our focus and commitment is going to make for some great battles in the coming years."
Even though the Cougars are shifting to the American Association after decades as an MLB-affiliated team, Kane County Vice President and General Manager Curtis Haug insists the fan experience will remain the same.
"We're still the Cougars," he said. "We'll have a lot of great promotions, great family entertainment, affordable ticket prices, cold beer and great food."